China is famous for exporting its mass-produced goods around the world for global consumption. Less well-known are its attempts to export its urban ideology. Across the country’s southern border with Laos and Myanmar lie six settlements built by Chinese developers, which operate businesses owned and run by the Chinese. Boten, a town located in northern Laos, is one of them.

Under the special economic zone plan, in 2003 Laos signed a 30-year lease on 4,000 acres of forest to a Chinese development company. Investors started building a “Golden City” centered around a casino-hotel. Touted as a futuristic hub for trade and tourism, the Golden City ran on Beijing time and made transactions in Chinese yuan.

Yet less than three years after it opened, the casino was forced to close due to speculation over criminal activity. Without gambling tourism, other businesses could not survive. The Golden City, deserted as it is today, remains a monument to the Chinese version of urban modernity.

1. Hotel operator Wei Qixing, from Fujian in China, owns a hotel in the Golden City. Once a brisk business, his hotel is now vacant except for him and two of his employees. / 2. Miss Liang, a 22 year old from Luang Prabang, is one of the 12 housekeepers remaining in the Golden City Casino Hotel. At its peak, the hotel had 100 housekeepers, mostly from China.
1. During its peak, the Golden City was touted as the “most internationally modernized city in Laos.” / 2. Residential estates were planned in anticipation of an immigration wave from China.
A swimming pool was built as part of a sports complex intended for residential use.
1. Most businesses in the city were run by merchants from China who have left. / 2. Jia Jia, a 25 year Laotian from the Luang Namtha Province, lives in one of the workers’ quarters with her Chinese boyfriend.
Lin Shiye, a 27 year old from Chongqing in China, is one of the few remaining residents of the Golden City. He works in a nearby construction site.
Before it closed, the casino town attracted tourists from China and Thailand, where gambling is prohibited.
With no work opportunities in sight, these young massage parlor workers from Chongqing have plans to return to China.
Laotians are still minorities in Boten. They work as border patrol and customs officers, and a few own small businesses.

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